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    The World Over

    "Over" and under-whelming

    The fable "The World Over" lacks the emotional depth to hold your attention but is staged with a more elaborate imagination than you'd ever expect in a small-scale production.


    Cross Mary Zimmerman's "Metamorphoses" with Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia," add a dash of "The Odyssey," and you've got the basic recipe for "The World Over," Keith Bunin's epic fable presented in off-Broadway-size proportions by Playwrights Horizons.

    Written by: Keith Bunin.
    Directed by: Tim Vasen.
    Cast: Mia Barron, Kevin Isola, Justin Kirk, Stephen Largay, Matthew Maher, Rhea Seehorn, James Urbaniak.

    Related links: Official site
    The Duke on 42nd Street
    229 West 42nd St.
    Previews start: Sept. 6, 2002
    Oct. 1-13, 2002

    Rich in theatricality, it boasts an ensemble of seven aesthetically and physically adroit actors, who don the costumes and personas of 34 exotic characters, ranging from pirates to royalty. However, the play isn't emotionally engrossing enough to support its running time of two-and-a-half hours, or to thoroughly involve the audience in its ambitious story of a man's lifelong journey to get home.

    Framed by the present-day story of a geographer (James Urbaniak) lecturing about the country of Adamus, which historical evidence shows existed only for one day, "The World Over" ventures back in time to the discovery of Adam (Justin Kirk), a castaway found by sailors on an uninhabited island. They take him aboard their ship and on the voyage, a balladeer (also Urbaniak) purports to make up a story about the Lost Prince of Gildoray, but inadvertently ends up convincing Adam that he is that missing monarch.

    So begin Adam's many years of wandering as he searches for his kingdom, which may or may not exist. Along the way he wins the hand of Princess Isobel (Mia Barron) and becomes the father of twins, only to lose his family in a wreck at sea while sailing for home.

    In his attempt to make Adam an Everyman (just look at the name), Bunin ("The Credeaux Canvas") fails to bequeath him with any especially interesting or distinguishing traits. And Kirk — the only cast member with just one role — doesn't reveal much depth or diversity in his performance. Perhaps it's because they have the more interesting roles, but the other members of the ensemble — especially Obie winner Urbaniak and Kevin Isola and Rhea Seehorn as Adam's adult offspring — consistently outshine him.

    Ironically for a modest, small-scale production, it's the technical elements that provide the evening's most pleasurable moments, thanks to director Tim Vasen, to whom "play" is as much a verb as it is a noun. Aided by the keen work of design team Mark Wendland (scenic), Ilona Somogyi (costume), Michael Chybowski (lighting) and David Van Tieghem (music and sound), Vasen creates a theatrical magic by exposing the tricks of the stage trade to the audience: the ladders actors scale are always visible, as are a fan that scatters windblown snow and a water jug swayed to effect the sound of ocean waves.

    But Bunin's promising plot doesn't carry the same charm. His rich and incandescent world of sultans and hermits, jungles and deserts loses its mystique in excessive overwriting. Lest anyone miss the moral of this tale — that those who keep looking for more beyond the horizon can't appreciate what's right in front of them — Bunin's characters spell it out repeatedly in the second act.

    "We could never determine your purpose, wandering so ceaselessly," a hawk that had been watching Adam from the sky finally tells him. The same can be said about "The World Over," which in the end is somehow less satisfying that the sum of its many parts.

    OCTOBER 10, 2002

    Reader comments on The World Over:

  • My favorite play   from Nicole Matson, Nov 24, 2004

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